Fantasy NASCAR practice recap: Pennsylvania 400
Jimmie Johnson is picking up right where he left off. One week after kissing the bricks at Indianapolis for the fourth time in his career, the five-time champ topped the charts in the opening practice at Pocono Raceway Friday. Johnson is a two-time winner at the triangle-shaped track, and he has 15 top-10s in 21 total starts. He has finished fourth in his last three starts, and given the similarities between Pocono and Indy, back-to-back wins could be on tap for the No. 48 team. Johnson certainly looks like he is catching fire as the Chase gets closer.
Ironically, Kyle Busch picked up where he left off, as well. After a second-place run at the Brickyard last weekend, Busch again found himself looking up at Johnson on the leaderboard in the opening practice at Pocono. Although an engine issue knocked him out of the June race at the track, he could make an excellent fantasy play this weekend. Busch has finished third or better in three of his last five starts at Pocono, and he was leading the August race last year until Brad Keselowski got by him on the final restart.
Roush Fenway Racing took care of the rest of the top five, with Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle rounding things out. Edwards and Biffle are both former winners at Pocono, but Kenseth had the best run of the trio at the track in June, finishing seventh. With Edwards struggling to find his groove in 2012, fantasy owners may want to stick with Kenseth and Biffle this weekend. In fact, Biffle has finished eighth and first in the last two August events at Pocono.
Two other names near the top of the leaderboard worth mentioning are Joey Logano and Mark Martin. Both drivers cracked the top 10 in Friday's first practice, and Logano and Martin finished first and second when the Cup Series visited Pocono in June. Logano won the race from the pole and led the most laps, but he needed to bump his way by Martin in the closing laps to do so. As he goes for the season sweep, Logano definitely deserves consideration from fantasy owners. However, Martin looks like the safer play. His runner-up effort in June was his seventh career second-place finish at Pocono.
Brad Keselowski was the only driver to run at least 10 consecutive laps in the opening practice. He not only one this race last season, but he did so while driving on a broken ankle. One of the keys to winning at Pocono is managing track position, and the No. 2 team does that as well as any team in the series these days. Don't be surprised if Keselowski finds a way to contend for the win once again.
In Happy Hour, series point leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. climbed to the top of the charts. After his performance at Pocono in June, fantasy owners have to strongly consider adding him to their rosters this weekend. Junior settled for eighth after pit strategy shuffled him back, but he led the second-most laps of any driver and ran in the top five most of the afternoon. He has finished in the top 10 in his last three starts at Pocono, and a big weekend could be in store.
The rest of the top five looked a lot like it did in the opening session, with Kyle Busch and all three Roush Fenway Racing drivers chasing Junior for the top spot. One name that wasn't near the top of the charts was Denny Hamlin. The four-time Pocono winner has dominated the tricky triangle, but he ranked 27th and 15th in the two sessions Friday. That being said, he did finish fifth at the track in June, and while he has had bad finishes at Pocono, he has never had a bad car. It would a big surprise to see him run poorly Sunday.
While Hamlin deserves the benefit of the doubt, fantasy owners may want to avoid Paul Menard. He does have four straight top-15 finishes at Pocono, including back-to-back top-10s, but he wrecked his primary car in the opening practice. He finished the first session ranked 28th on the charts, and he only improved to 20th in his backup car in Happy Hour. Unless he really turns things around in qualifying, owners may want to look elsewhere for their sleeper pick this weekend.
Happy Hour Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
First Practice Speeds (sorted by Best Lap)
10-Lap Average Speeds (must run 10 consecutive laps)
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.Follow @kffl_racing
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